L to E:  In Support of the Upper Westchester Muslim Society Project

Monday, July 28, 2014
by Hannah Kalifeh

This represents a personal opinion from a member of the Muslim community. I am not writing as a representative of UWMS.

My name is Hannah Khalifeh. I am twenty-one-years-old, and a recent graduate from Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York (Class of 2014).  After graduation, I moved back to my family’s home in Chappaqua, where we have lived since I was in second grade in 1999. This summer, I was hoping to hear good news that the proposal for a mosque submitted by Upper Westchester Muslim Society has been finally approved. Unfortunately, I was told that yet another public hearing has been planned for July 30th, an additional step in a long process that has taken eight years now.

For those reading this who do not know, the Upper Westchester Muslim Society is currently —and has been since 1997— renting a space in an industrial building in Thornwood. It is a hot, stuffy and cramped space with poor ventilation, dusty stairs and inadequate bathrooms. As the Muslim community in Westchester has grown over the years the number of people who attend congregation has grown, especially because there is no other mosque in the vicinity to serve the Muslim community. Upper Westchester Muslim Society was able to purchase a plot of land on Pinesbridge Road in 2004. In 2006, the Board then submitted to the town a proposal for our mosque.

For eight years, we have experienced numerous setbacks and disappointments. Every time we believed we were one step closer to approval, a new issue is brought up that set us one step back again. UWMS has complied with all of the SEQR regulations and has recorded and responded to hundreds of comments on the application. We have been compliant with complains about parking, building size, and proximity to neighbors. And yet, we find ourselves still in the Special Permit stage.

Enough is enough. The fact that until now the Muslim community in New Castle has been barred from having a space of our own to worship is truly a blemish on our community, which in my experiences has always been a warm, open community that did not discriminate. I am saddened that this process has taken the time that it has. To put in perspective, I am now a college graduate, and I have been waiting for my Muslim community to have a space of our own to practice our religion in peace since I was leaving Robert E. Bell Middle School to enter Horace Greeley High School. I cannot fathom why the process of moving beyond the first step has been met with such resistance from the public; or rather, I can, but I do not want to consider the possibility that this town that I call home does not welcome me.

Anyone who has participated in an event hosted by the Interfaith Council of Chappaqua can attest to the fact that Muslims living in New Castle and the surrounding area are an active part of this community. Muslims work alongside members of other faiths and are involved in all aspects of our shared community from educational programming, Thanksgiving dinners, and children and youth group activities.  New Castle and our surrounding towns should be proud to be host to such a plurality of beliefs and views. We ask that we move forward with the procedure to give Muslim families in this community their right to have a place of worship, just like every other faith in this community.


Comments(27):
We encourage civil, civic discourse. All comments are reviewed before publication to assure that this standard is met.

How long did it take for Temple Beth El to get approvals for their renovation/expansion?

By equal footing? on 07/28/2014 at 9:50 am

The opposition is only about the inappropriate site—traffic, such a woeful lack of parking that busing will be required—not about a mosque itself, which will be welcomed. If the town and the Interfaith Council were genuinely interested in helping the Muslim community, they would join together with developers and work toward obtaining a better site that would avoid busing people. Two sites came easily to mind: CC or the Legionaries/Rosehill property. Both have plenty of room for the mosque and other development. The Muslim Society would not lose money on the Pinesbridge Road investment, and the town and its clergy would show that it is interested in all people being treated as first-class citizens.

By bob on 07/28/2014 at 11:03 am

Why not read Vera Garrett’s letter in this issue.  She is one of the neighbors that you wish would welcome you and the Muslim Society.  Have you given any thought to the many and very real concerns of the neighborhood you are planning to change.

I think that this property is not the place for a building the size that you want and say that you need.  I would say that no matter the religion.  I said that about the unconscionable expansion of Temple Beth El and am no longer a member of their congregation because of that.  Many other members have left that Temple for the same reason.

You and the Society should have given consideration on what this will do to the neighborhood.  You did not.  Whatever the reasons you all thought that this was the right spot surely you can see the problems with it.  That you ignore them and the neighbors does you and the Society no credit.

Why would anyone be proud to welcome such selfish and inconsiderate people ?
I know that I would not.

By resident on 07/28/2014 at 4:03 pm

It’s an 8 acre property, a property that was for sale and was purchased for a use that is permitted in a residential zone.

By This is allowed on 07/29/2014 at 3:44 am

It may be “permitted,” but it is not right.

By bob on 07/29/2014 at 9:49 am

The FCC is in need of funds. How about a sharing/rental agreement with them? That way the use remains as a house of worship for the property.

By How About? on 07/29/2014 at 9:56 am

I am sorry but this is not about the Muslim community in New Castle, this is about bringing and busing in people from all over Northern Westchester!! the environmental impact and financial impact on the families that live here is enormous, and the Upper Westchester Muslim Society does not care!!

By Vera Garrett on 07/29/2014 at 10:36 am

Dear Hannah, There isn’t a person in our neighborhood that would want anyone or any group of people to go through the troubles you have faced in finding a spot that is appropriate for a house of worship. Your letter is heartfelt and frustration is palpable. I sympathize with the distress that a lack of facility for worship has caused. However, I take great offense to the continued assumption that a lack of support by our neighborhood has anything to do with religeon or intolerance. We are a community of every faith. The lack of support the UWMS faces is because the tunnel vision that has occured making the Pinesbridge sight the only choice-was a huge mistake. We do not want that property developed for anything other than residential use. That is the bottom line. Any type of construction that will bring anything other than a few family cars going to and from their new home is not welcome. It has nothing to do with religeon or culture. If a shopping mall was proposed next door to your home in Chappaqua, I suspect you might have some doubts as to the appropriateness of the choice of location. Please do not continue to accuse the neighborhood of being intolerant when the plans the UWMS has proposed never involved asking the neighboring community if it was willing to change it’s character of peaceful quiet roads with little traffic and woods and clean beautiful lake. THAT is what this is about. Sincerely, Jennifer Scopes

By Jennifer Scopes on 07/29/2014 at 11:05 am

If anybody here is being discriminated against, it is the west end Newcastle taxpayers. I am very empathetic with regard to your current house of worship. You’re absolutely correct that your congregation needs a larger place to meet and worship to serve the needs of the congregants. One of the things you fail to realize however is the reason it is taking eight years is because you were clearly trying to shove a square peg inside of a round hole. Pinesbridge Road is not suitable for a building with 120 parking spaces. This is greater than several of the elementary schools that currently service our community and the neighborhood does not have the thoroughfares to handle the anticipated volume of traffic. Your letter is well received but completely misses the reasons for objection to this site being used as a house of worship.

By Discriminate against who??? on 07/29/2014 at 11:32 am

Problem is not Islam; problem is wrong place from traffic and parking point of view.

By Wrong Place on 07/29/2014 at 1:18 pm

There is no legal basis for objections to the use of this site for a religious institution.  And as far as what the environment will allow, that’s been studied and taken into account.  That’s all the Zoning Board must do. This group purchased the property. It was probably a matter—like it would be for anyone—of what what was available and they could afford at the time.  It was for sale, the bought it, they made their plan, as they had a right to do. Enough with continued public hearing.  There’s nothing to hear.

By Nothing to keep hearing on 07/29/2014 at 3:44 pm

Bob writes: It may be “permitted,” but it is not right.

You mean, bob, that it may be permitted but it’s not convenient for the neighbors. But it is the owners’ right to build it.

By Right on 07/29/2014 at 3:49 pm

@Nothing to keep hearing,
C’mon man, why not show some decency and consider the moral objections to the creation of a mosque on this site.

By bob on 07/29/2014 at 4:02 pm

It is completely unrealistic for a building of this magnitude to be in a residential area, no matter what the purpose of the building. The work is not done because the environment will not allow a project of this size. the proposed septic system, with Still Lake only 400 yards downhill, creates the risk of polluting the lake. 

Obviously, the full environmental impact has not been considered!

By unrealistic on 07/29/2014 at 4:11 pm

Right,
No. I meant what I wrote. Do what is morally right. Convenience, well, that’s your world, my friend. Enjoy it.

By bob on 07/29/2014 at 7:07 pm

I would welcome you into my home to break bread, and I would welcome you to enjoy Stillwater Lake with me and my family.  I will not welcome a facility of this size with the very real potential to negatively and permanently impact the environment I call home.  The FEIS does not adequately address all of the concerns of the neighborhood.  That is why the ZBA must vote to deny the permit.

By Mike Chiafulio on 07/30/2014 at 10:02 am

another article o this subject had an interesting comment quoting the department of justice as to the intent of the civil rights law.  as someone mentioned at the 7/30 meeting, all but 1 religious facilities are located in commercial zoning.quoting from doj’s website:

“Religious assemblies, especially, new, small, or unfamiliar ones, may be illegally discriminated against on the face of zoning codes and also in the highly individualized and discretionary processes of land use regulation. Zoning codes and landmarking laws may illegally exclude religious assemblies in places where they permit theaters, meeting halls, and other places where large groups of people assemble for secular purposes.”

http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/hce/rluipaexplain.php

By donna on 08/05/2014 at 5:19 am

donna,

If only the ZBA would read the law. Too much work I suspect.

By bob on 08/05/2014 at 5:08 pm

this letter is so wrong on so many levels.  Chappaqua is not discriminating agains your religion.  we just don’t want a huge building of any size for any reason built on that site.  Please care about the neighbors and the traffic before you feel discriminated against.  Please allow some other town to enjoy your mosque in a suitable space for your religious beliefs.

By not here not ever on 08/05/2014 at 6:03 pm

unfortunately our town board expanded/went above & beyond what’s allowed in residential areas. it’s amazing what’s allowed & all new castle residents should be aware of this.  here’s the link:  http://www.ecode360.com/documents/NE0395/NE0395-060b Residence-Use.pdf#search=religious

i thought on one of the forms the applicant was to identify alternative sites - i wonder how they answered that ?.  as i see it, there’s so many other sites far more appropriate and less costly.

sadly, i can see the zoning board granting the variances and special permit.

 

 

By donna on 08/06/2014 at 10:16 am

The town code is in serious need of an overhaul, as was done with the portion dealing with ethics or lack thereof.

(Unfortunately, the link provided above seems not to work, at least for me. But the town code is available on the town’s web site.)

By bob on 08/08/2014 at 7:41 am

i was shocked to see the laundry list of what’s allowed in residential neighborhoods.  sorry bob that the link doesn’t work - met me try again.  if this doesn’t work, the article titled below also has the link

ZBA continues public hearings on mosque environmental review and special permit to September

Tuesday, August 5, 2014
by Christine Yeres

http://www.ecode360.com/documents/NE0395/NE0395-060b Residence-Use.pdf#search=religious

By donna on 08/09/2014 at 6:14 am

why here and not somewhere else?  why put a building of such immensity and parking of so many cars here in a residential neighborhood when there are so many empty buildings elsewhere in Westchester you can renovate?  it just doesn’t make sense to me at all or are you just wanting the Chappaqua name for the value of Chappaqua?  I’m just not seeing this from a practical standpoint.  it’s beginning to look like a political statement.

By why here on 08/09/2014 at 7:49 am

Dear Hannah,
The people in this town don’t like change. Or they strongly believe they should call the shots - location, size, cost. Most (if not all) proposals have been met with resistance - affordable housing (Hunts Lane), Chappaqua Crossing, affordable housing (Congregational Church), Seven Bridges Middle School, the repair of the bridge, etc.  People even criticized the replacement of the rotting gazebo. Chappaqua made case history with it’s opposition/resistance to multifamily housing back in 1975.
Many of the comments emphasize that they (and their friends & families) aren’t racist or prejudiced against other religions.  However, in resisting development, they are trying to preserve this town in amber - like a fossil.  Vibrant, diverse communities thrive on change - that’s what’s needed to stay alive.

By Nancy on 08/09/2014 at 8:35 am

How much was it that gazebo cost the taxpayers?

By bob on 08/09/2014 at 12:46 pm

Nancy,

Let me guess, you were all for the Conifer project no matter what.
The Seven Bridges Middle School was not needed and should never have been built.
What was being proposed at the Congregational Church is high handed and too much.

Many of us moved here because of the small town character of the community.  That may mean nothing to you, but that does not give you license to dismiss us or to characterize
our view as you have.  Thoughtful planning does not necessarily mean anti development.

I do think that the objections to the gazebo were silly.

By resident on 08/09/2014 at 12:59 pm

@Nancy,

So residents “strongly believe they should call the shots.” Yes, we call that democracy. You want to call the shots, run for office.

By bob on 08/09/2014 at 1:43 pm


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